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Berry Tramel  


Oklahoma football: Sooners the best at promoting from within

by Berry Tramel Modified: January 16, 2014 at 9:45 am •  Published: January 16, 2014

You know those periodic surveys of the best companies for which to work? One of the elements is promotion. Who promotes from within.

In college football, four schools would get an A for promoting assistants to head coach. Only four schools have filled their head coach openings from the existing staff at least half the time.

And OU is one of them.

Using World War II as roughly the cutoff, four schools have promoted assistants to head coach 50 percent of the time.

OU, Oregon, Michigan and Georgia.

Big-name schools, all. OU, Michigan and Georgia are tradition-rich, while Oregon is a relative newcomer on the college football blueblood scene.

OU and Oregon stand above, since they’ve entrusted their own assistants five times out of 10 chances. Michigan has done it four times out of eight, Georgia three times out of six.

The Sooners have hired Gary Gibbs in 1989, Barry Switzer in 1973, Chuck Fairbanks in 1967, Gomer Jones in 1964 and Bud Wilkinson in 1947. Before World War II, OU also promoted Tom Stidham in 1937, and he got the Sooners to the Orange Bowl in his second season.

Switzer and Wilkinson became all-time great coaches, Fairbanks was a home run also and Gibbs was solid. Only Jones could be considered a failure as a head coach.

But the Sooners haven’t hired from their own staff in their last three chances. Which makes Oregon the new Oklahoma.

The Ducks have made a habit of hiring from within. Oregon’s last three hires were promotions: Mark Helfrich in 2013, Chip Kelly in 2009 and Mike Bellotti in 1995. Kelly and Bellotti produced famously; the outlook for Helfrich looks good, too.

Oregon’s other promotions were from an earlier era — Dick Enright in 1972 and Jerry Frei in 1967.

Michigan has had only eight coaches since 1937. Of those, four were promoted — Lloyd Carr in 1995, Gary Moeller in 1990, Bump Elliott in 1959 and Bennie Oosterbahn in 1948.

Carr and Oosterbahn coached national title teams. Moeller won two Big Ten titles in five seasons. Only Elliott struggled. Though he lasted 10 years, Elliott’s record was 51-42-2, with one Big Ten title and five second-division finishes.

Georgia has had just six coaches since 1938. The Bulldogs promoted Ray Goff in 1989, Johnny Griffith in 1961 and Wally Butts in 1939. Butts coached 22 years and won four SEC titles. Goff and Griffith both struggled.

Other schools that have shown a propensity to promote:

* TCU: Five of 11 promotions, including their greatest coaches. Gary Patterson in 2000, Abe Martin 1953 and Dutch Meyer in 1934.

* Tennessee: Five of 11 promotions, including Phil Fulmer 1992, Bill Battle 1970 and Robert Neyland 1926.

* Clemson: Four of nine, including Dabo Swinney 2008, Danny Ford 1978 and Frank Howard 1940.

* LSU: Five of 12, most recently Mike Archer 1987 and Jerry Stovall 1980, but none to great acclaim.

* Nebraska: Three of eight, including Frank Solich 1998, Tom Osborne 1973 and Bill Jennings 1957. Jennings had been on Wilkinson’s OU staff.

Oklahoma State, despite hiring assistants in general at a greater rate than any major-conference school (you can read that here), has promoted only three out of 12 times. OSU promoted Mike Gundy in 2005, Pat Jones in 1984 and Jim Stanley in 1973. You could argue quite successfully that OSU’s three most successful coaches since World War II are Gundy, Jones and Stanley.

Other Big 12 schools:

West Virginia: Four of 11,

Texas Tech: Three of 11. Tech promoted Spike Dykes in 1987, Rex Dockery in 1977 and J.T. King in 1961. Dykes was reasonably successful.

Baylor: Two of nine. Only Chuck Reedy 1993 and Sam Boyd 1956. Reedy was fired too early, after going 23-22 over four years.

Texas: Two of nine, only Ed Price 1951 and Blair Cherry 1947. UT has not promoted from within in 63 years.

Kansas: Two of 14, only Bob Valesente 1986 and Don Fambrough 1971. Valesente went 0-14 in the Big Eight. Fambrough went 19-25-1 in four years but was so beloved, he was brought back as head coach four years after stepping down.

KansasState: One of nine, only Bus Mertes 1955. Like every other KSU coach not named Bill Snyder or Pappy Waldorf, Mertes didn’t do much.

IowaState: Zero of 12. The Cyclones never have promoted from within. Only Virginia Tech (zero of seven) can also make that claim.


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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